ELSTON GUNN INTERVIEWS SPIKE: ASYLUM’S BRIAN LYNCH
Hi folks, Elston Gunn here for the first time under the AICN Comics logo! You may have heard of Brian Lynch reading Variety or Hollywood Reporter when he sold one of his screenplays or TV pilots. Maybe you've seen some of his uncredited script work here and there (ROBOTS, SCARY MOVIE 3) or you may remember an AICN review six or seven years ago by yours truly of his screenplay entitled THE NEXT MUPPET MOVIE. If we lived in a perfect world, we would have that DVD in our collections now. Perhaps you attended one of Kevin Smith's Vulgarthon events and you laughed your ass off at Lynch's sketch comedy film BIG HELIUM DOG, which Smith produced, or you've seen his mug pop up in other View Askew productions. Maybe you've enjoyed the characters Angry Naked Pat, Mugsy, Patchouli, The Guy Who Loves His Own Ass, Monkey Man and many more in his online comics and shorts at MoviePoopShoot.com, CampChaos.com and Lynch's AngryNakedPat.com, or in print via his Angry Naked Comics. Maybe you picked up the SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED issue featuring Lynch's story, "Slyde Into Destiny," which boasted the return of one of Spidey's most sought-after and willfully forgotten villains, Slyde. Or it could simply be that Lynch bought you a few beers one night, then later let you sleep on his couch where he tucked you in and... read his comics to you.
If you've answered "no" to all of the above, know that Brian Lynch is a screenwriter, comic author and Monkey Man harborer who left the smog of New Jersey for the smog in L.A. to devote his life to the written word. (By the way, that "written word" is "crack cocaine.") Furthermore, Lynch is fulfilling a dream this fall by writing words into the mouth of one of Joss Whedon's most-loved and talked-about complicated vampires with bleached hair, black lungs and a long dark coat from the BUFFY-verse, William the Bloody a.k.a. Spike.
IDW Publishing is releasing the first issue of their miniseries SPIKE: ASYLUM on Wednesday, September 27. Lynch took some time to answer a few questions about the project for AICN Comics.
Elston Gunn (EG): So, how was this opportunity presented to you? Did you pitch the arc to IDW or did they approach you wanting a writer to do something with the character?Brian Lynch (BL): I worked with Chris Ryall when he ran www.moviepoopshoot.com (now www.quickstopentertainment.com). I did a comic called MONKEY MAN for 100 weeks at the site. When he became Editor in Chief at IDW, and they got the ANGEL license, I bugged him and guilted him for roughly a year before he was all “fine, girlfriend, let’s see what you got” and I was like “sure ‘nuff, girlfriend. Represent!”, which is weird because neither Chris nor I talk like that normally.
Anyway, he asked if I had an idea for a five issue SPIKE series, and I remembered an idea for a TV show a while back. It was about a rehab facility for monsters, dealing with problems like a werewolf’s anger issues and a vampire’s blood addiction. I never did anything with it, as I wasn’t sure if it should be a BUFFY-esque hour long show or maybe a comedic half hour animated show, so there it sat in my head, along with phrases like “girlfriend” and “represent”.
I started wondering if the idea would work if we plugged Spike into it. I wrote the treatment and handed it into Chris, he liked it a lot and sent it to Fox, who liked it a lot, and we were off and running.
Most of the ideas I had for the show were set aside somewhat so we could concentrate on Spike and his problems. However, a couple of the characters made it in. There’s a werewolf named Marv, for instance, who the asylum keeps so drugged that he can’t turn during the full moon. As a result, he’s hairy and angry and frustrated all the time. By the end of the series, he eats a guy’s face, but he assumes the guy was evil so it’s okay.
EG: As a writer and fan what is it for you that makes the character of Spike so interesting?BL: On a superficial level, Spike is a smart-ass, and they’re always fun to write. From Peter Venkman to Ash to the fat kid who proclaimed “Wolfman’s got nards” in MONSTER SQUAD, people who are cynical and jokey in the face of supernatural evil are always a good time.
But beyond that, Spike’s history on both BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL makes for such a rich character. He started as such an evil (though oddly likable) sort, and then became a hero who, I think at last count, saved the world more times than anyone else on either of the shows.
The comic deals with Spike trying to be a hero, while coming to terms with the monster he was before he got a soul. He wants to be the white knight, but his past keeps coming up to haunt him. He’s literally locked up with hundreds of creatures who know him (be it from stories they’ve heard, or knowing someone he’s hurt) as a full-on villain.
EG: Spike was a writer/poet before he was a vampire, so you have that in common. Now that he has a soul again and resides in L.A. I've wondered if he would take up writing again in another form. Could you picture him in a pitch meeting?BL: He’s such a charming guy that he’d be great in a pitch meeting. Problem is, he’d have to take the pitch meeting at night. And if they had any notes, they’d best get the skinniest, prettiest girl to give them to him. If they did, he’d follow the notes to a “T” as he’s quick to listen to a lady. But if a man gave him notes, there’s a very good chance that man would be mocked and then possibly thrown through a window.
EG: Did you write Spike closer to the softer sappier vamp from seasons 6 and 7 of BUFFY, or as the irritable smarmy guy in the last season of ANGEL?BL: I think he was irritable and smarmy because he was thrust in a situation that he didn’t want to be in, with a guy he hasn’t liked for decades. In SPIKE: ASYLUM, Spike is free of Angel’s company for a little while.
That’s not to say he’s not irritable. If you got thrown into a prison for supernatural monsters and most of them wanted you dead, you’d be somewhat pissed, too. But we see his softer side. He’s there to save a young girl, and his relationship drives a lot of the book.
He’s definitely a hero and definitely likable throughout the book, but he’s still taking the piss out of everyone he meets, so the official answer is: the Spike in SPIKE: ASYLUM is definitely a good mixture of the two sides of Spike and it is fun for fans of both. And they should buy six copies of each issue, just because.
EG: At what point is it decided how many issues and panels-per-page it will take to tell the story?BL: The five issues was decided before I started writing word one. The number of panels is simply how many we need to tell whatever part the story we’re dealing with.
I wished we could have had more full-page splash panels, but the story is so dense (Spike goes through a hell of a lot), I found myself cutting the big splash panels up into littler panels so I could cram more story in. That said, if it called for it, if a moment was dramatic and big enough, it got it’s own page.
EG: When does this particular story take place? Does Spike have a soul in ASYLUM?BL: Spike has a soul, is corporal, and is on his own in Los Angeles. I tried my best to not say “this is after the series” or “this takes place between episode so-and-so of the fifth season of ANGEL”. I just tried to tell the best SPIKE story I could tell.
My hope is, Joss Whedon reads it and says “this is so good I hereby declare it takes place after ANGEL and we are making this the SPIKE movie” and then takes me out to lunch and asks me to go look at handbags for his wife’s birthday. I think that will probably happen. Keep in mind, I’m an optimist.
EG: How fun and/or challenging was it to write Spike's dialogue and be true to the character?BL: I love it. I’ve watched every episode of BUFFY AND ANGEL even before I got this job, so I know the characters well. I also kept Spike-centric episodes on in the background whilest I wrote.
Writing Spike is fun, the biggest challenge is not using “bloody” and “git” and “sod” too much. I think I did okay. At one point he’s so flabbergasted, that’s all he can say for three panels, but it’s played for laughs.
EG: Were there any restrictions placed on the character or storyline by Fox or Mutant Enemy?BL: Not really, no sir. They only nixed two lines in the entire series. One I can’t say because it’s a spoiler, but the other was when a character berates Spike for working for Wolfram & Hart. Their note was he never technically worked for them, so I added a line for Spike where he retorts “I never worked for them, I was mailed to them. In an amulet. It’s complicated.” I’m grateful for their note, because I like the new line.
EG: Does Spike interact with any other characters from the "Buffy-verse" or do you have an entirely new cast?BL: There are tons of references to the series. In one room at the Asylum, there is a QUIET PLEASE sign that has a picture of one of the Gentlemen from the “Hush” episode of BUFFY, for instance. Fans of Whedon will have something cool to find on just about every other page. As for appearances from other Whedon-verse regulars, just wait and see. I’d hate for the really cool stuff to be ruined.
That said, there are tons of new characters, which is fun. If Angel and Spike are the only characters in a book, you’re fairly certain nothing will happen to them because there are other comic stories to tell (and because Mr. Whedon probably doesn’t want someone else slaughtering his sacred cows, especially in comic form). But all new characters that you grow to like and care about, and that can be killed at any time, that adds a cool element of drama to the story. And some are tied in directly to Spike’s past, which is fun.
Remember the show OZ, where characters were bumped off without warning? It’s kinda like that. Only without those troublesome skinheads and about a third of the shower sex.
EG: I guess this question should be directed to the artist, Franco Urro, but ...sigh... a friend of mine wants me to ask, "Are you able to transfer the overall hotness of James Marsters from the television series to the comic strip?"BL: I got a lot of e-mails from ladies (and, sure, a few gentlemen) that asked if I could find a way to have Spike lose his shirt for a couple of pages. So, I guess comic Spike is just as hot as TV Spike. And I listened, he loses the shirt for a few pages. This is probably the section of the interview that the TalkBackers will make fun of me for. Bring it, TalkBackers! You want to see shirtless cartoon Spike and you know it! He’s the sexiest beanpole.
EG: How do you juggle the action, comedy and the darker aspects of a story like this?BL: My favorite genre is horror comedy. SLITHER, MONSTER HOUSE, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, EVIL DEAD 2, I love them. A couple of scripts I’ve sold were horror comedies, so I love writing in that genre.
SPIKE: ASYLUM isn’t a comedy, so when I was done writing the individual scripts, I went back, read it through and made sure it didn’t get too jokey. The series definitely goes to some dark places. If you do a comic about an asylum for vampires and demons and such, it should, but it doesn’t lose it’s sense of fun.
EG: Screenwriting vs. comic writing... do the aspects of one influence, help or hurt the other? Having directed a film, too, do you feel like with comics you're co-directing the story with the artist?BL: They’re basically the same, you want to give your lead an arc, the three act structure is pretty much there, but the pacing is different.
I tried to make it so when the reader hits page 22 of each issue they’re frustrated they have to wait a month to see what happens next. Movies don’t have those kind of cliff-hangers (save for those Johnny Depp PIRATES movies, and that one about that nice dim fellow in the black leather who fought evil computers), but that’s about it. It’s mostly the same, populate your stories with interesting characters, constantly try and surprise the viewer/reader, that kinda thing.
And, yes, Franco Urru is completely my co-director in this. Some stuff I was iffy about in script-form was illustrated SO well he saved my ass a couple of times. He thinks of surprising ways to show what’s going on, so even a simple scene of two people talking in a room is suspenseful and fun to look at.
The rule of thumb in anything you write is to surround yourself with people more talented than you, and I can definitely say I have done that with everyone working on the book. Pencils, inks, coloring, lettering, it’s all top notch.
EG: Do you have plans for more stories with Spike or any other Buffy/Angel characters? What's next for you in comics, film or TV?BL: I have ideas for a couple of stories involving these characters, along with a couple of other BUFFY and ANGEL characters that I didn’t include in SPIKE: ASYLUM, definitely.
As for what I’m working on, I recently got hired to write a movie, that is not unlike SPIKE in that it’s involving a pretty beloved world of characters, but unlike SPIKE in just about every other way.
Also, last week, I sold a TV show to a network, that is very unlike anything I have ever written before. If Chris Ryall hadn’t asked me to do SPIKE: ASYLUM, I doubt I would have attempted this show. So, I thank Chris from the bottom of my adorable heart because the end result is pretty awesome. It’s a show I would love to watch, and it’s a show that I can see a lot of people getting excited about. I’m excited to see people’s reactions to it. Hopefully, AINT IT COOL will love it and talk about it and talkbackers can bitch about it endlessly from the comfort of their parents’ homes sometimes next year.
EG: Finally, what comics are you currently reading?BL: I’m a comics dork, so you just opened a can of the geekiest worms you’ve ever seen. Comics I read? You asked for it...
A couple of shout-outs for the home team: IDW is currently putting out a couple of my favorite books: THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW, which is adapted from a Clive Barker novel. The aforementioned Mr. Ryall is writing it, and the art, by Gabriel Rodriguez, is stunning. There is a SPIKE one-shot that I love called LOST & FOUND. The story (written by Scott Tipton) takes place smack-dab in the middle of ANGEL season 5, and it plays like a really fantastic episode. There’s a new book called WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE, by Ben Templesmith (the artist of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT), which is hilarious and really creepy. I love it.
While we’re talking horror, there are two really good zombie books out there right now. One is THE WALKING DEAD, which is pretty damn popular and deservedly so, it’s a really amazing, really dark book. On the flipside is a book called ZOMBIES! which is a big, crowd pleasing zombie book full of blood and gore.
Best book in years is SCOTT PILGRIM, an insanely funny comedy about a guy who has to face down all of his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends. I just made it sound really lame, but it’s one of the most original books I’ve ever read.
On the subject of original books, CASSANOVA by Matt Faction is the best comic that I don’t understand ever.
On the subject of independent comics, there is a great one that has just started out at http://kwarl.magical-art.com. It’s fairly new, but what’s up so far really impressed me. Everyone should check it out.
As for superhero books? I dig Marvel’s Ultimate line. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is similar to BUFFY, it plays out like a TV show, with arcs running through the “seasons” so to speak. Always a fun read. THE ULTIMATES is my favorite super hero book currently, when it comes out, it’s a great deal of fun. Big, epic adventure. Plus, it was the book that had Captain America, when asked to surrender, proclaiming “do you think this A on my head stands for France?” which assures it’s place in comics heaven. ULTIMATE X-MEN is really good, though they made Longshot a serial killer in this universe which assures it’s place in comics hell.
Mr. Whedon and Mr. Cassaday’s ASTONISHING X-MEN is not only funny, the action is done perfectly. Wait, screw ULTIMATES, this is my favorite super hero book. But then there’s ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, so crap, I don’t know, that’s great, too.
I read tons of DC. I’m digging 52 and I dug INFINITE CRISIS. But, on a related note, the best run of comics ever was the Blue Beetle/Booster Gold/Maxwell Lord/Guy Gardener JUSTICE LEAGUE, and it appears that DC is hellbent on killing and/or raping all those characters. It’s depressing, but at the same time, the SUPERMAN, BATMAN, ROBIN and WONDER WOMAN books are the best they’ve been in years, and Dan Slott’s SHE-HULK is kinda the new JUSTICE LEAGUE as it’s so much damn fun. He’s a great, great writer.
Also, aside from the creators I’ve mentioned above, I’ll pick up anything written by Allan Heinberg, Jeph Loeb, Bob Burden, Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, Gail Simone, or Geoff Johns, and anything drawn by Jim Lee, Arthur Adams, Skottie Young, Oliver Coipel, or David Finch.
That said, none of those comics hold a candle to BLOOM COUNTY or PEANUTS. It’s true.
That was fun. To anyone who made it to the end of this long long long interview, thank you very much.
And let me be the first to say, PLANT!
Elston Gunn firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.myspace.com/elstongunnaicn